Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review: The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith)

My adoration of a good mystery is no surprise. I have written often of my love for the genre, particularly the works of the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie. When it comes to crime fiction, I tend to live exclusively in the past. Modern mystery thrillers, in the mould of those by John Grisham, just don't really do it for me. Give me a non-traditional private detective, such as Poirot or Miss Marple, and I am happy to pass hours unravelling mysteries alongside them. It wasn't until J.K. Rowling adopted the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith and introduced readers to the fantastically tenacious and complex Cormoran Strike, that I finally found a modern crime novelist who fits my reading tastes. Having already reviewed The Cuckoo's Calling (and loved it), I was excited to hear that a sequel would be gracing the shelves in 2014. Some months after the fact, a review is here for your delectation.

"There were undoubtedly those to whom killing was easy and pleasurable: he had met a few such. Millions had been successfully trained to end others' lives; he, Strike, was one of them. Humans killed opportunistically, for advantage and in defence, discovering in themselves the capacity for bloodshed  when no alternative seemed possible; but there were also people who had drawn up short, even under the most intense pressure, unable to press their advantage, to seize the opportunity, to break the final and greatest taboo."

The Silkworm sees a return to the activities of Cormoran Strike, former soldier and roguishly proficient private detective. Following his success in solving the infamous Lula Landry case (as told in The Cuckoo's Calling), Strike is receiving cases thick-and-fast. However, it is following the disappearance and murder of controversial author Owen Quine that Strike finds himself embroiled once more in a dangerous search for the truth. Quine's murder proceeds a leak of his newest manuscript, Bombyx Mori, in which Quine depicts grotesque perversions carried out by his characters. These characters are barely disguised representations of real-life figures and, as such, the pool of suspects for Quine's murder is vast. Strike, alongside his assistant Robin Ellacott, must search through the lies and secrets of Quine's world and relationships in order to discover the truth behind his death.

"...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels."

J.K. Rowling does an exemplary job of weaving together a complex and intriguing plot, pulling the reader along with the narrative developments in a way that makes them feel as if they too are solving the crime. This is the mark of a truly great crime author. It is undoubtedly the case that when one reads Agatha Christie's Poirot, the experience is of a different nature entirely. Poirot's demeanour is one of superiority and the ultimate conclusion of the cases often involves a leap of intuition and logic undetectable by the reader. Christie's works have tremendous merit, but the reader is typically consigned to the role of outside observer. With The Silkworm, the reader instead becomes a party to the crime solving. This has much to do with Rowling's story-telling style, a talent most clearly demonstrated in the Harry Potter series. Her natural skill in weaving complex, relatable, and engrossing narratives is perfectly suited to the mystery genre. This is exemplified throughout The Silkworm.

Beyond this, the characters are well-developed and evocative. Cormoran Strike is fast becoming one of my favourite literary detectives. His imperfections are clear, without dominating his character and deductive style. He is perfectly imaginable, with a personality and talents within the spectrum of realism. This, as I mentioned in my review of The Cuckoo's Calling, is notably absent from literary detectives such as Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, both of whom exhibit elements of unreality. Strike is fantastically alive, and well complemented by an array of excellent and intriguing characters. From his tenacious assistant, Robin Ellacott, to the mysterious publishing master, Daniel Chard, all are multifaceted and interesting.

This is, then, a book for those who already have a love of crime fiction - particularly those who, like me, harp back to the literary classics. However, it is inevitable that there are many existing Rowling fans who will be looking to recapture elements of their Harry Potter experience. While The Silkworm is sadly devoid of wizards, you will always manage to pick up elements of Rowling's narrative style reminiscent of the Hogwarts days. Indeed, there are many instances of reverse Dumbledore-style philosophising on life, the universe, and everything:

"We don't love each other; we love the idea we have of each other. Very few humans understand this or can bear to contemplate it. They have blind faith in their own powers of creation. All love, ultimately, is self-love."

There are, then, many reasons to throw yourself into J.K. Rowling's latest literary endeavour. I only suggest that you make a start when you have some time to spare, because these are some novels that are pretty tough to put down.


2 comments:

  1. I agree with you about this type of crime fiction - I don't read a lot and I loved Christie and have enjoyed Galbraith. She really does bring her writing style to the books and I found it most obvious to me through her minor characters! They're such gems, even if they're only fleeting.

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    1. I totally agree. She really has some serious talent with making her (even minor) characters fly off of the page.

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